Back in Adrian’s room, Sam found Bo seated at the desk, out of the camera’s line of sight. The overhead light was off, and Bo had switched on a nightlight. He looked up as Sam entered. Rising, he went to stand beside the bed, where Adrian lay staring at the ceiling. “Sam’s going to sit with you for a little bit, son. I’ll be right outside, watching the camera displays on the laptop.”
Adrian’s eyes cut toward his father. “So we’re starting now?”
“Yes.” Leaning down, Bo kissed his son’s forehead. “Just relax, and let your thoughts flow like they usually do.”
Nodding, Adrian shut his eyes. Bo straightened up and met Sam at the door. His hand closed around Sam’s wrist, clutching hard enough to hurt. He didn’t say anything, but the fear in his eyes spoke for itself.
Sam dipped his head to plant a light kiss on Bo’s mouth. “It’ll be okay,” he whispered. “I love you.”
Bo’s lips curved into the slightest of smiles. Letting go of Sam’s wrist, he strode out into the hall, leaving Sam alone with Adrian and the possibilities of what he could do.
After a few minutes of fidgeting, Adrian sat up with a sigh, rubbing his eyes. “This sucks. I can’t get comfortable.”
“That’s okay. You don’t really need to be comfortable for this part.”
“Dad said I had to relax.”
“I know. But only enough to kind of let your thoughts and emotions go. We don’t want you going to sleep just yet.”
The boy leveled a mulish glare at Sam. “I wasn’t going to.”
“I’m sure you weren’t.” Leaning forward, Sam rested his elbows on his knees. “Listen, why don’t you try some of those breathing exercises I showed you? That should relax you enough to let you stop trying so hard and just let it happen. Okay?”
Adrian looked skeptical, but didn’t argue. Plopping backward onto his pillow, he shut his eyes and began the slow, rhythmic breathing Sam had taught him. Within a couple of minutes, the furrows smoothed from Adrian’s brow. Not long after that, his fingers began to pick at the quilted comforter.
With a quick glance toward the desk to make sure he wasn’t blocking the camera, Sam slid to the edge of his chair, his gaze fixed on Adrian. The child’s nose wrinkled. One small fist bunched the material of his pajamas. He seemed to be almost in a trance. An angry trance, Sam amended, watching the boy’s top lip curl in an unconscious sneer. He wondered what Adrian was thinking about.
Something flickered at the edge of Sam’s vision. He whipped his head around. Amid the shadows of the open closet, a deeper darkness swirled and vanished before Sam could determine its shape.
Sam stared into the clutter of books, toys and clothes. Nothing moved. Cautiously, he let his mind ease open. The fracture he’d noticed before remained unchanged, though it was easier for him to pick it out this time. He took a slow, deep breath, then another, allowing his senses to expand. Tendrils of his thought sifted through the normal energy of the house, searching for whatever might lie beneath.
A cold alien presence brushed Sam’s aura like icy fingers. Startled, he grasped at it with his mind. It slipped away from him and was gone as swiftly as it had appeared.
Heart hammering, Sam leaned back in his chair. He felt dirty, as if the thing which had just slithered through his consciousness had left an oily residue behind. He had no idea what to do now. Should he tell Bo what he’d felt? Should they cut their test short? Or was he letting his past experiences with the portals skew his objectivity?
As if in answer to his question, darkness coalesced into a near-solid mass in the depths of Adrian’s closet. Something shifted and clattered to the floor.
Adrian shot to a sitting position, breathing hard. “What was that?” The boy’s voice shook.
“I don’t know.” Jumping up, Sam flipped the switch to turn on the overhead light. Was it his imagination, or did the churning blackness linger for a moment before fading in the brightness? “Did you see anything?”
“Yeah. It was—”
The bedroom door flew open, cutting Adrian off. “What happened?” Bo demanded, his gaze darting between Sam and Adrian.
Sam gave Bo a surreptitious once-over. Bo’s voice was calm, but Sam saw the pure terror lurking behind his carefully controlled expression. “Something in Adrian’s closet fell.”
“There was something in there,” Adrian chimed in. “I saw it.”
Sam answered the question in Bo’s eyes with a tiny shake of his head. Later, he mouthed. He didn’t want to discuss what he’d felt in front of Adrian. Not without talking to Bo alone first.
With a swift but meaningful look at Sam to indicate he understood, Bo crossed the room to perch on the edge of his son’s mattress. “What did you see, Adrian?”
“It was the thing. The solid one.” He screwed his mouth sideways in thought. “Or, well, almost. It wasn’t quite solid yet. But it was gonna be in a second.”
Sam and Bo glanced at each other. “So this was the same thing you’ve seen before?” Bo asked, watching Adrian’s face.
“Uh-huh.” Adrian drew both legs up, wrapped his arms around them and rested his chin on his knees. He stared at his father with solemn eyes. “What was it, Dad? Can we make it go away?”
Bo gave him a strained smile. “Let’s look at the videos before we start making plans, okay?”
“But, Dad, what if it’s…?” Adrian scooted closer to Bo. “What if it’s a monster, Dad? Like the one that bit you?” The boy’s voice quavered just a little.
Bo glanced up at Sam, his indecision clear in his face. His eyes pleaded with Sam to give him some guidance. To tell him whether he should be completely honest with Adrian, or gloss over the potential danger in order to allay his fears. Sam shook his head. He wished he had an answer for Bo, but he didn’t. Both courses of action held their own particular hazards.
Not knowing what else to do, Sam walked over to sit on Bo’s other side. He rested his hand on the small of Bo’s back, fingers rubbing soothing circles just above the waistband of Bo’s jeans. “Whatever you think, Bo,” he murmured.
Sighing, Bo wound an arm around Adrian’s shoulders and hugged him close. “Adrian, I know you’re anxious to stop seeing and hearing things. But we need to have some sort of proof that something was actually there before we can decide what to do.”
Adrian squirmed loose of Bo’s embrace. “I saw it. It was there, and it was real.”
“Nobody’s doubting that you saw something. All I’m saying is that we need to try and find out exactly what it is you saw.” Bo reached out to brush a tentative hand across his son’s arm. “Sometimes the darkness can play tricks on your eyes. Especially when you’re already scared.”
Sam winced. He knew Bo didn’t want to frighten Adrian, but making him angry was hardly better.
Adrian jumped to his feet, his expression stormy. “I saw it! I see it all the time! It’s not my imagination!”
Bo stood, one hand held out in a placating gesture. “I’m not saying—”
“Yes you are.” Adrian backed up, his features contorted in fury. “I thought you believed me, but you don’t. Nobody does.”
Whirling around, Adrian snatched a miniature spaceship off the bedside table and hurled it against the wall. It shattered, sending shards of gray and white plastic skittering across the floor.
Hard on the heels of Adrian’s outburst came a low, rusty noise that raised all the hairs along Sam’s arms. All other sound and movement stopped cold as Sam, Adrian and Bo turned to stare into the closet, from which the noise had come. The walls seemed to bend inward toward a faint, misty whorl barely visible against the tangle of jackets and shirts.
Sam stared. He felt like all the air had been sucked from his lungs. A horribly familiar pressure throbbed inside his skull. The overhead light flickered and dimmed. Through the static in his mind, Sam heard the rough subterranean snarl once more. It was louder than before.